Case study

Records and archives officer — Ashleigh Thompson

A combination of voluntary work and postgraduate study were key to Ashleighs success in becoming a records and archives officer. Find out more about how she hopes to further develop her career

What degree did you study?

I graduated with a degree in history followed by an MRes Historical Research. I later went on to take a postgraduate degree in archives and records management at the University of Dundee.

How did you get your job?

I volunteered within a university archive service and did a one-year graduate traineeship prior to applying for the postgraduate degree in archives and records management. This gave me a good idea of what the job entailed before I committed to taking a qualification.

I also volunteered within an archive service during the course. Luckily, I was volunteering for Edinburgh City Archives when they were recruiting for two posts. By this point I had a lot of experience and I was over half way through my degree, which meant that I was in a good position to apply for the role.

What's a typical day like?

I manage both archives and current records. Tasks include overseeing the public searchroom, document retrievals and returns, answering enquiries, providing advice and training, project work, hosting group visits, delivering talks and presentations, and attending meetings.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I particularly enjoy engaging with, and supporting, local groups (for example, community archives and heritage societies). These interactions vary and can include providing tours of our public searchroom and on-site record store, delivering talks on the collections that we hold, and offering advice and guidance on collection care.

What are the challenges?

One of our biggest challenges is managing digital records to ensure their longevity. The care and management of digital records is much more complicated than the paper and parchment records that we know so well. Technology moves quickly, and we have to change the way in which we think and work with regards to digital records.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree in archives and records management taught me the theory and practice of recordkeeping, from overseeing a public searchroom to record retention schedules. I learned how to care for and manage both historic and current records.

My history degrees are also helpful, as I have experienced the other side of archives and records, as an academic researcher who relied upon archivists to help direct my research.

How has your role developed?

Recently my role has developed into records management project work. I am lucky as my role encompasses both archives and records management, which allows me to work on diverse and ambitious projects. This is not always the case, and often roles are specifically focused on one or the other.

My long-term career ambition is to move into a role that will allow me to inform policy and strategy for archives.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

  • Choose a course that will provide you with the transferable skills that employers look for.
  • Research the different institutions and types of courses on offer to find which one best suits your situation.
  • Choose a course that you will enjoy, as a Masters in a subject that you're not keen on will feel like a long slog.

What advice can you give to aspiring archivists?

  • Volunteering is key as it gives you a flavour of the role. Many courses require some voluntary work within archives or records management prior to applying. Ideally, volunteer in more than one service as they vary.
  • Find someone in the role that can act as an informal mentor. I have found this to be invaluable as these people offer support, guidance and connections.
  • Sign up to relevant job mailing lists to get an idea of the kinds of jobs that come up and, if possible, become a member of relevant organisations such as the Archives and Records Association (ARA) and the Information and Records Management Society (IRMS).

Find out more

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